The Eurasian Union is a Russia-sponsored modernization project for the region. Some politicians see it as an attempt to revive the Soviet Union and are a priori hostile to it. Germany and France have a more even-handed perception of Putin’s and Nazarbayev’s idea, viewing it as an inevitable stage in the drive to modernize the former Soviet republics.
interview with Alexei Vlasov, Deputy dean of the History Department at Lomonosov Moscow State University and director of the Information and Analytical Center on Social and Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space.
How will relations between the Eurasian Union and the EU develop? What will be Europe’s foreign policy in regard to Central Asia as a whole?
We can make only short-term forecasts. The next few years are likely to see such dramatic geo-economic and geopolitical changes that the existing situation will inevitably need to be subjected to radical revision. For example, the Central Asian Region’s role as a crucial component of energy production and transportation may be called into question if the “shale revolution” becomes a reality. Currently, however, Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) are EU’s strategic partners in the energy dialogue. The area is also a “high-risk zone” associated with drug trafficking and terrorism.
The Eurasian Union is a Russia-sponsored modernization project for the region, which is why the EU has mixed feelings about cooperating with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Some politicians see it as an attempt to revive the Soviet Union and are a priori hostile to it. Germany and France, as I see it, have a more even-handed perception of Putin’s and Nazarbayev’s idea, viewing it as an inevitable stage in the drive to modernize the former Soviet republics. There is a desire to build pragmatic relations. This “heterogeneity” is what dictates a wait-and-see stance on the part of Brussels, which wants to have a clear understanding about what the end result will turn out to be.
What are the similarities and differences between the integration mechanisms and processes in Europe and Eurasia?
The rates are the main difference. The Eurasian Union can come into being much faster than the EU. The economic and political conditions behind its formation are basically different from those of the 1960s and 1970s. The similarity is that the EEU has largely to cover the same stages as the EU, albeit at a different rate.
Will the EEU be able to pursue unified or at least coordinated foreign and economic policies in the same way as the EU is planning to do now?
I suppose it’s possible, but not within the next three to four years. The multi-vector policies being pursued by Russia’s partners are not conducive to establishing common principles and approaches in foreign policy. That is why Belarus and Kazakhstan are emphasizing the economic component of integration, while dragging their feet on political integration.
But what we can glean from the examples of Libya and Syria suggests that in the EU full unanimity on foreign policy approaches may well be a desired goal, but one that is yet to be achieved. There are also many unanswered questions where economic policies are concerned. To my mind, the EEU must take into account Brussels’ negative record: a hasty expansion of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space could create considerable problems in terms of effective coordination. This process can proceed at an accelerated rate within the trilateral format, given that Moscow, Astana and Minsk hold similar views on the key economic and foreign policy issues.
Could there be a clash of basic values underlying the EEU and the EU?
To my mind, there are unifying principles in both the European and Eurasian communities. Some cases in point are tolerance and cooperation in the broad sense of the word. The problem is that the Eurasian project has just started shaping its identity, focusing for the time being on the economic aspects of integration. There is no large-scale public discussion that could embrace ideology and value systems. This challenge must be addressed, but it is not yet clear who might take on the role of moderating such a discussion.
In any event, neither the European nor the Eurasian project will be able to fully exploit their potentials unless they formulate a coherent and clearly articulated development ideology. Naked economic reductionism doesn’t work in conditions of a crisis. In this sense, we share the same goals.